Winter is a tough time for
raising chickens on pasture. As Eliot Coleman explains in his Winter Harvest Handbook, most evergreen plants enter
a semi-dormant state after the day length drops below 10 hours.
This period, which he calls the Persephone Days, lasts for two months
from late November to late January here in southwest Virginia.
During this mid-winter period, you can’t count on any new growth from
your pasture and must be very careful not to overgraze and damage the
We’re still trying to
figure out the best way to provide our chickens with greenery during
the winter. In the past, we’ve used chicken tractors, which
allowed us to move our flock through the sunniest parts of the yard and
capture as much of the stored up summer greenery as possible.
However, by January, we generally ran out of fresh grass and had to
pull the chickens back over areas that had previously been scratched
In the long run, I suspect that
the solution will be multiple pasture paddocks, at least two of which
are planted in winter grains. Since we had to plant
our winter wheat late to prevent Hessian fly damage, the plants are still quite
small and may not be ready for chicken beaks until the spring. I
think it might be worth planting one of their pastures in an earlier
grain like oats or barley next year, to be used completely as green
fodder during the Persephone Days. Giving chickens optimal
pasture during the winter months will probably come down to planning
fallow summer and fall pastures to stockpile energy and then doling
that energy out during the Persephone Days.
waterer keeps up our
flock’s strength as the greenery fades.